How to Train a One-Year-Old for Sensory Play

How to Train a One-Year-Old for Sensory Play

Inside: One-year-old indoor sensory play

One-year-old sensory play.

Imagine an hour in your day that you can sit back, reheat that coffee, and finally get to read through that Athleta catalogue sitting on your kitchen table.

Sounds dreamy doesn’t it?

These are just some of the perks for mom after sensory bin bootcamp.

But it takes a couple training rounds before you can fully relax as couscous is being scooped and poured on your kitchen floor.

What’s involved in sensory play training?

Let’s dive in.

RELATED: Curious how I manage staying home with 3 children under 5? Breakfast Invitations have saved our day.

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one year old indoor sensory play

Here is my 20 month old scooping and pouring. He’s been practicing on and off again for the last couple of months.

It started with the strawberry bin, but who are we kidding? That was probably mostly for my pleasure to watch and take pictures.

Then we moved on to stacking blocks and sand play. The more we do, the better he understands that the sensory play materials do not get thrown across the room.

Does sensory play etiquette happen on it’s own? No. But I am here to set you up for success.

RELATED: 40+ Ideas for One-Year-Olds

one-year-old sensory play
  1. Pick your sensory play medium.

There are couple rules when it comes to what you are putting into the sensory bin.

The first and most important rule is making sure your one-year-old will not choke.

If it is a maybe, do not use it. Not worth it. There are SO many other sensory play ideas to use in exchange.

Here, I am using couscous. Sometimes I find what will go into our sensory bin by what is expired in my pantry. Sadly, my couscous enthusiasm must have dwindled since it expired in 2016. yikes!

The good news? I have a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and a five-year old that couldn’t wait to get started. Lucky for me, the older two are well versed in sensory play and typically keep it all under control.

RELATED: Why is Sensory Play Important? By Busy Toddler

One year old Sensory play supplies, toddler sensory bin, indoor activity for one-year-old #18months #19months #toddler #toddlerlife #preschool #oneyearold

2. Create your buffer zone.

I like to lay down a variety of buffers to create the, “okay to spill zone”.

Do I tell my kids there is an “Okay to Spill Zone?”

Not necessarily.

Their job is to keep the (couscous, water, rice, etc.) IN the sensory bin.

What I am doing, is thinking ahead.

I know that if I tell my children to keep the water in the bin, it will naturally trickle onto the buffer zone. It happens. But it is also important to set limits you can wiggle with to set your patience up for success.

If I tell my children they have some extra room to spill, water will be everywhere. - These are the tricky mom moves that keep me sane. Allow you and your children some flexibility.

Keep in mind, little arms are practicing to hold their hand steady.

This is a skill that needs to be done again and again to help down the road when they pour their own milk, write, and prepare ingredients for a meal.

The trick is to keep the space clean and inviting.

Smooth out any wrinkles on your sheets and try and keep colors neutral.

You want to invite your toddlers and preschoolers to a clean, inviting space that doesn’t distract them from the main sensory play setup. Too many distractions will lead to disarray in play.

So what can you use as your buffer zone?

  • plastic shower liner

  • old yoga mat

  • old indoor cycling mat (shown here)

  • plastic table cloth

  • outside

  • old towel

  • old bed sheet

Sensory play activities for kids

See this sensory water play here. It is a blast for your older kids!

Sensory play activities for kids

3. Set Limits; Sit Tight

Unfortunately, we cannot set the sensory play up, then walk away.

I have never met a one-year-old that also doesn’t like to run away with the rice as it falls aimlessly out of their hands. I also know of a couple one-year-olds that enjoy throwing rice across the room.

Now riddle this.

It is normal for your one-year-old to WANT throw, toss and run away with your supplies!

They are curious little people that are learning life through their senses. That is a brilliant thing! Our role here is to help them understand the guidelines of when and where to go awol. I find this book as an amazing resource for children!

It is just as important to remind your toddlers that they need to keep the rice IN the bin.

Here’s how this may look for ANY age at the introduction of sensory play:

  • Your first couple setups you are sitting WITH your child.

  • Your child is sitting on the opposite side of you so you can face one another.

  • Encourage your child as they begin to engage with prepositional phrases. “Good job! You are putting your rice IN the cup! Look at you! You hid the spoon UNDER the rice”

  • Encourage your child when they begin to take handfuls and dump it into their lap. You can do this with phrases such as, “Put the rice IN the bin. Watch mommy, I am putting the rice INSIDE the bin.” Then continue to model where the rice needs to go.

  • If your child listens, remember to congratulate them on their good job, again using prepositions. “You did it! That’s right! You put the rice INSIDE the bowl. Smart move!”

  • If your child continues to toss the rice, simply take the bin away. Remind them. “Mom asked you to keep the rice inside the bin. If we throw the rice, the bin gets put away.”

  • Remember your child is still learning. If your child is asking to play again, simply remind them to keep the rice INSIDE the bin as you place it back on the floor.

  • Now again, you are going to sit with your child. Continue to sit together as you model and reinforce for the first handful of sensory bins.

how to toddler sensory play

4. Troubleshooting Conflict

We have two phrases on repeat.

Many times all three boys are hands-on a sensory bin at once.

It can go really smoothly, and rarely things can start to plummet south. But it happens! They are kids. Typically I try to stand on the sidelines and see how they work themselves out.

When they need me to intervene, we have two phrases that I like to share.

Sometimes they work, and others in the heat of the moment they do not. But what is more important is that I am implanting suggestive problem solving skills that they surprise me when they use on their own terms.

  1. Let’s make a plan. - read more about this strategy here.

  2. Kind words receive kind echoes. - see it posted here. 

Both of these phrases are incredible powerful to hear and practice. We want our children to be problem solvers and find ways to resolve conflict without adult intervention. The way we do this is by modeling ourselves.

When there is a BIG problem, stop. Come sit next to your kids and say, “Let’s make a plan.” If it doesn’t resonate with them, remind them the sensory bin will go away and they can let you know when you are ready to try again.

Sensory play for one-year-olds, toddlers and preschoolers .jpg

5. The Vacuum Saves the Day

We are all moving at 100 MPH. We don’t really want to add one more thing to our to do list, which is cleanup spilled over rice. I get it.

But the longevity of sensory bin play outweighs the cleanup time by a long shot.

Remember, cleanup is just a vacuum away.

Now you are ready to begin sensory play!

Here are some great tools and resources to help you get started:

Sensory Play Ideas:

This is a list for all ages. Please use your discretion for which activity is best for your child’s age and maturity level.

Water Play:

Remember, you can add many things to water. Use funnels, containers, plastic cups and bowls for one-year-olds+.

Bear Soup

Cranberry Pour

Rescue the Bears

Eyeball Soup

Water Buttons

Neon Squirt

Ice Alphabet Match

Paint the Ice

Ocean Bin

35+ Ideas for Water Play Roundup

Lemon Sensory Bin

Texture Sensory Play:

Sand - one year old+

Beans - Pour and Scoop

More Beans - and how to make it work

Sticky Pumpkin - one year old+

Water Beads - the brand you will love

Color Mixing

Flower Cutting

Edible Sensory Play:

Sweet and Tasty - one year old+

Outdoor Supplies:

What’s in our bucket? One-year-old+

Which sensory play will you do today?

one year old indoor sensory play, toddler learning to scoop and pour, things to do with a one-year-old, at home learning with toddlers #toddler #oneyearold #18months #19months #20months
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